Ancient evangelicalism

In honor of his 80th birthday, Christianity Today reprints a fascinating interview with Thomas Oden, a formerly liberal theologian who discovered the church fathers and who now has been advocating a historically orthodox Christianity in all of the theological traditions.  In the interview, he tells about how he abandoned liberalism–largely because of the liberal stand on abortion–how reading Luther helped cure him of radicalism, why we need creeds and church history in addition to the Bible, how evangelicals need to discover the sacraments, and the impact of modernity and postmodernity.  At one point, he calls himself an “ancient evangelical,” which is another interesting term.   The interview defies excerpting, so read it here:  Back to the Fathers | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    “Ancient Evangelical,” I like that term!

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    “Ancient Evangelical,” I like that term!

  • Michael

    He must really selectively read the church fathers. What are these Church Father’s opinions on the Inquisition, or on the Jews?

  • Michael

    He must really selectively read the church fathers. What are these Church Father’s opinions on the Inquisition, or on the Jews?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Michael, the term “church fathers” refers to the Christians of the early church in the time of the Roman Empire. The Inquisition wasn’t invented until over a thousand years later and was aimed largely at us Lutherans. The Church Fathers didn’t torture anyone for their faith; THEY were ones BEING tortured for theirs. As for the Jews, I’m not aware of any of the church fathers expressing anything that could be construed as anti-semitic. Christianity had just emerged out of Judaism. And typically both Christians and Jews were persecuted together.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Michael, the term “church fathers” refers to the Christians of the early church in the time of the Roman Empire. The Inquisition wasn’t invented until over a thousand years later and was aimed largely at us Lutherans. The Church Fathers didn’t torture anyone for their faith; THEY were ones BEING tortured for theirs. As for the Jews, I’m not aware of any of the church fathers expressing anything that could be construed as anti-semitic. Christianity had just emerged out of Judaism. And typically both Christians and Jews were persecuted together.

  • fws

    Michael @ 2

    ALL the church fathers, including the Lutheran ones, must be selectively read.

    And how do we select? We have 2 points of Authority: The very Words of Christ, and we have the Apostolic Witness to Christ. Draw a line through those points and that line can point in only one direction, which is to point faith to be terrified at ALL its own works and so know to hide ALL it’s works in the Works of Another and also be certain that the Promise is for THEM personally.

    Now when any church father, say John Calvin, Jerome, Irenaeus, Luther says something that is in line with that Authority, then we rejoice and embrace it. Wherever what those fathers say that is not in line with this Apostolic authority we then honor the dead fathers by refusing their errors.

  • fws

    Michael @ 2

    ALL the church fathers, including the Lutheran ones, must be selectively read.

    And how do we select? We have 2 points of Authority: The very Words of Christ, and we have the Apostolic Witness to Christ. Draw a line through those points and that line can point in only one direction, which is to point faith to be terrified at ALL its own works and so know to hide ALL it’s works in the Works of Another and also be certain that the Promise is for THEM personally.

    Now when any church father, say John Calvin, Jerome, Irenaeus, Luther says something that is in line with that Authority, then we rejoice and embrace it. Wherever what those fathers say that is not in line with this Apostolic authority we then honor the dead fathers by refusing their errors.

  • fws

    Dr Veith,

    This was an interesting article. It is interesting how his conscience condemned him over moral issues and thus forced him towards orthodox doctrine. The Law always accuses.

    Usually what both liberals and conservatives share in common is that they look for a doctrinal position or church that aligns with their already held political and moral views.

  • fws

    Dr Veith,

    This was an interesting article. It is interesting how his conscience condemned him over moral issues and thus forced him towards orthodox doctrine. The Law always accuses.

    Usually what both liberals and conservatives share in common is that they look for a doctrinal position or church that aligns with their already held political and moral views.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Vieth @3
    I haven’t read “extensively” in the church fathers and most of what I have read doesn’t touch on the topic of Judaism. However, Eusebius does, and it isn’t always pleasant. Of course, here he mostly chronicles how Judaism which had legal rights in the Roman Empire, used those rights to ferment persecution of Christians who did not share the same rights. There was of course back lash to this treatment at times. In fact, one might argue that most of the anti-semitism the church has known on and off through the years was a result of this persecution of Christians by Judaism in the first four centuries.
    But yes Michael is wildly off target with his questions.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Vieth @3
    I haven’t read “extensively” in the church fathers and most of what I have read doesn’t touch on the topic of Judaism. However, Eusebius does, and it isn’t always pleasant. Of course, here he mostly chronicles how Judaism which had legal rights in the Roman Empire, used those rights to ferment persecution of Christians who did not share the same rights. There was of course back lash to this treatment at times. In fact, one might argue that most of the anti-semitism the church has known on and off through the years was a result of this persecution of Christians by Judaism in the first four centuries.
    But yes Michael is wildly off target with his questions.

  • Dennis Peskey

    My prayer is all who hear the Gospel proclamation adopt the practice of the Bereans. Upon hearing the proclamation from St. Paul, they “received the word with all eagerness examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) This is the essence of sola scriptura – all words must be tested by the Word. We should follow this practice today with the innovations being introduced into the practices of the Church. Lutherans do not follow Luther’s teachings because of Luther – we embrace what he proclaimed is in accordance with God’s Word and the understanding given us throughout the early Church.

    When another proclaims something different from what has always been the practice of the Church, we must listen with discernment and test what is said. Ergo, when John Calvin or Huldrich Zwingli introduced a different understanding of the Sacraments, this too should have been tested with the Scriptures and the accepted teachings of the Church Fathers. When doubt about the clear meaning of the New Testament is presented, we should not question God’s Word but this new understanding. The Church did this in 325AD with Arius at Nicaea; indeed, the history of the Church is a dedication to testing doctines against the Scriptures. This has been the practice of the Church at Berea, in Ephesus, at Nicaea; the Church is called to this today wherever the Word is proclaimed; and tomorrow, until parousia. Come Lord Jesus – come quickly.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    My prayer is all who hear the Gospel proclamation adopt the practice of the Bereans. Upon hearing the proclamation from St. Paul, they “received the word with all eagerness examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) This is the essence of sola scriptura – all words must be tested by the Word. We should follow this practice today with the innovations being introduced into the practices of the Church. Lutherans do not follow Luther’s teachings because of Luther – we embrace what he proclaimed is in accordance with God’s Word and the understanding given us throughout the early Church.

    When another proclaims something different from what has always been the practice of the Church, we must listen with discernment and test what is said. Ergo, when John Calvin or Huldrich Zwingli introduced a different understanding of the Sacraments, this too should have been tested with the Scriptures and the accepted teachings of the Church Fathers. When doubt about the clear meaning of the New Testament is presented, we should not question God’s Word but this new understanding. The Church did this in 325AD with Arius at Nicaea; indeed, the history of the Church is a dedication to testing doctines against the Scriptures. This has been the practice of the Church at Berea, in Ephesus, at Nicaea; the Church is called to this today wherever the Word is proclaimed; and tomorrow, until parousia. Come Lord Jesus – come quickly.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Bob

    I’d highly recommend a book of Oden’s, “The Justification Reader.”

    It’ll rock ya!

  • Bob

    I’d highly recommend a book of Oden’s, “The Justification Reader.”

    It’ll rock ya!

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Most of what was written concerning the Jews by Ancient Christians were folks condemned as heretics, because they were trying to eliminate any Jewish flavor from the Scriptures ala Marcion.

    @#3 Dr. Veith, in trying to answer questions from a parishioner, I have been reading a lot of stuff by Messianic Jews and pro-Israel dispensational types. The see anything that calls the church Israel, as anti-semitic, because they see us as attempting to take all the good stuff and leave Jews only with the bad stuff.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Most of what was written concerning the Jews by Ancient Christians were folks condemned as heretics, because they were trying to eliminate any Jewish flavor from the Scriptures ala Marcion.

    @#3 Dr. Veith, in trying to answer questions from a parishioner, I have been reading a lot of stuff by Messianic Jews and pro-Israel dispensational types. The see anything that calls the church Israel, as anti-semitic, because they see us as attempting to take all the good stuff and leave Jews only with the bad stuff.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    The term I hear most often in connection with Oden is “paleo-orthodoxy.” This distinguishes the movement from neo-orthodoxy, and rightly emphasizes its attempt to find the roots for Protestant orthodoxy in the Church fathers.

    Oden’s book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity contains a good summary of his paleo-orthodoxy.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    The term I hear most often in connection with Oden is “paleo-orthodoxy.” This distinguishes the movement from neo-orthodoxy, and rightly emphasizes its attempt to find the roots for Protestant orthodoxy in the Church fathers.

    Oden’s book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity contains a good summary of his paleo-orthodoxy.

  • Abby
  • Abby
  • Helen K.

    Abby @11
    This book has been on my “get and read list” for some time. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Helen K.

    Abby @11
    This book has been on my “get and read list” for some time. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Michael

    I should have explained my remark about the Inquisition in more detail, which is evident as I reread my original post. While the Inquisition came centuries later, the early church fathers laid much of the groundwork by developing the doctrine of hell and the importance of correct belief. Given certain beliefs about hell and the afterlife, a heretic is far more dangerous than say a serial killer. Namely, avoiding hell is not possible without correct belief. A serial killer may kill someone, but a heretic could say something to a person that might be regarded as truth, which could potentially damn the person to eternal torment. The Inquisition believed it was doing very noble work, and many of their written works still survive where they explain their logic.

    As far as antisemitism of the church fathers, one doesn’t have to look far. Here is a link to some quotes, although this person includes Luther and Calvin as church fathers:
    http://www.yashanet.com/library/fathers.htm
    You find what they have to say on the Jews far worse than a Jerry Falwell whose remarks are relatively less anti-semitic, such as “Jews can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose”.

  • Michael

    I should have explained my remark about the Inquisition in more detail, which is evident as I reread my original post. While the Inquisition came centuries later, the early church fathers laid much of the groundwork by developing the doctrine of hell and the importance of correct belief. Given certain beliefs about hell and the afterlife, a heretic is far more dangerous than say a serial killer. Namely, avoiding hell is not possible without correct belief. A serial killer may kill someone, but a heretic could say something to a person that might be regarded as truth, which could potentially damn the person to eternal torment. The Inquisition believed it was doing very noble work, and many of their written works still survive where they explain their logic.

    As far as antisemitism of the church fathers, one doesn’t have to look far. Here is a link to some quotes, although this person includes Luther and Calvin as church fathers:
    http://www.yashanet.com/library/fathers.htm
    You find what they have to say on the Jews far worse than a Jerry Falwell whose remarks are relatively less anti-semitic, such as “Jews can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@13) said,

    The early church fathers laid much of the groundwork by developing the doctrine of hell and the importance of correct belief.

    You might have noticed this groundwork was based on Scripture, hmm?

    And while I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find anti-Semitism among the church fathers (they were, after all, sinful humans), I don’t think the site you linked to demonstrates what it purports to, for the most part.

    I mean, you do realize that Christianity and Judaism make radically different, mutually exclusive, truth claims, don’t you? Do you honestly believe that pointing that out amounts to “anti-Semitism”?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@13) said,

    The early church fathers laid much of the groundwork by developing the doctrine of hell and the importance of correct belief.

    You might have noticed this groundwork was based on Scripture, hmm?

    And while I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find anti-Semitism among the church fathers (they were, after all, sinful humans), I don’t think the site you linked to demonstrates what it purports to, for the most part.

    I mean, you do realize that Christianity and Judaism make radically different, mutually exclusive, truth claims, don’t you? Do you honestly believe that pointing that out amounts to “anti-Semitism”?

  • http://lwtheology.wordpress.com tdoig

    Michael, I’m pretty sure many of those quotes are taken out of context. Augustine’s from the Confessions 12.14 for one, is referring to God’s Word as we have in the Christian confession. He is referencing Hebrews where the writer of the epistle describes God’s Word as a double-edged sword that penetrates to the heart. Augustine’s prayer is one for the Lord to open the hearts and let the Holy Spirit in. He is praying for all people to find the truth of Christ. Also, I did a Google search on that quote in the google books of the Confessions. Nothing showed up. And, I must also say I’m no expert in the Church Fathers….maybe I’m wrong on this one.

  • http://lwtheology.wordpress.com tdoig

    Michael, I’m pretty sure many of those quotes are taken out of context. Augustine’s from the Confessions 12.14 for one, is referring to God’s Word as we have in the Christian confession. He is referencing Hebrews where the writer of the epistle describes God’s Word as a double-edged sword that penetrates to the heart. Augustine’s prayer is one for the Lord to open the hearts and let the Holy Spirit in. He is praying for all people to find the truth of Christ. Also, I did a Google search on that quote in the google books of the Confessions. Nothing showed up. And, I must also say I’m no expert in the Church Fathers….maybe I’m wrong on this one.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @13 I am not sure those verses count so much as anti-semitic as they point out Christians aren’t Jews aka hebraic people who rejected Christ.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @13 I am not sure those verses count so much as anti-semitic as they point out Christians aren’t Jews aka hebraic people who rejected Christ.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    will be back to ‘swipe’ this – thanks for the post and –
    to the commenters…
    thanks for the links…
    Carol-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    will be back to ‘swipe’ this – thanks for the post and –
    to the commenters…
    thanks for the links…
    Carol-CS

  • Tim D

    @13 Are the Church Fathers responsible for the inquisition in some way? I don’t think so. As you said, they developed the doctrine of hell and the importance of correct belief, but that hardly is the same as encouraging the punishments of heretics, or any of the other unchristian practices of the mediæval church.

    The link you gave about anti-semitism was extraordinarily unconvincing in my opinion. Only one or two if those quotations could be considered antisemitic, and that really does not matter. Paleo-orthodox theologians don’t care about the private views of the Fathers, their works aren’t inspired like scripture so every word they spoke is irrelevant. Paleo-orthodoxy is about the common views, teaching, and priorities of the early church, the general consensus, and nothing else.

  • Tim D

    @13 Are the Church Fathers responsible for the inquisition in some way? I don’t think so. As you said, they developed the doctrine of hell and the importance of correct belief, but that hardly is the same as encouraging the punishments of heretics, or any of the other unchristian practices of the mediæval church.

    The link you gave about anti-semitism was extraordinarily unconvincing in my opinion. Only one or two if those quotations could be considered antisemitic, and that really does not matter. Paleo-orthodox theologians don’t care about the private views of the Fathers, their works aren’t inspired like scripture so every word they spoke is irrelevant. Paleo-orthodoxy is about the common views, teaching, and priorities of the early church, the general consensus, and nothing else.


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